Think cynically and you might conclude that politics played a role in Curt Camoni’s appointment as the new head of the Lackawanna County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Here’s a possible motive to feed your cynicism: beating Kevin Haggerty, the troubled 112th District state House representative who many Democrats wish would just go away.
Some of them already are lining up behind Kyle Mullins, 32, a Blakely resident and legislative director for state Sen. John Blake. Mullins announced in June he would challenge Haggerty in the Democratic primary election next May.
The 112th District includes all or parts of Central City, the Hill Section and South Scranton in Scranton, Archbald, Blakely, Dunmore, Jessup, Olyphant and Throop. Haggerty won back the seat last year from former Rep. Frank Farina, and has met regularly with trouble since.
His wife, Jennifer, claimed Haggerty hit her in the head hard enough May 18 that she suffered temporary hearing loss and numbness in the face, according to her petition for a protection from abuse order. She withdrew the petition, but filed for divorce.
Dunmore police cited Haggerty for harassment. The citation hearing, twice postponed, is set for Thursday at 2 p.m.
Haggerty also got sued when he failed to repay Dunmore supermarket owner Rocco Riccardo a $5,000 loan for his 2014 campaign, a loan he also failed to note on his campaign finance reports for years, a clear violation. He repaid the loan and his lawyer attributed failing to report it for three years to “a simple mistake,” though Haggerty’s opponents reacted with apoplectic incredulity when they heard that.
“Here’s the proof Haggerty committed campaign fraud for three years,” former Farina staff David Valvano wrote to us in a June 20 email, attaching a copy of Haggerty’s two $500 checks attempting to repay the debt. Riccardo rejected the checks because he wanted the whole amount back.
“It was no simple oversight as his lawyer stated,” Valvano wrote.
No one has charged Haggerty with a crime related to the loan.
Haggerty still hasn’t explained his absence without leave from the Marines back in 1997, either.
Because of all that, and other stuff, many Democratic politicos privately think Haggerty is too erratic.
Hence, their support for Mullins, who’s not as well known as Camoni.
The conspiracy theory involving Camoni begins with that, but goes back, too.
Camoni, a Valley View school director, announced plans to run for state representative in 2014, but never did. Instead, the Democratic primary election — which is where that seat’s winner usually is decided because district Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans — wound up a three-way contest among Farina, Haggerty and Bob Munley. Farina won before losing two years later.
As the conspiracy theory goes, if Camoni got in the House race next year, he could muck up Mullins’ chances and ensure Haggerty’s victory.
One source of ours swears a bunch of key Democrats got together and convinced the visitors bureau board to hire Camoni to keep him out of the House race.
This seems hard to believe because it would take convincing a lot of board members.
Larry West and Jim Rodway, two of the alleged conspirators, deny they played any role in getting Camoni the job.
“That is an absolutely terrible and false rumor,” West said. “Quite honestly, I was a fan of Susan Estler.”
Estler, one of the most qualified people ever to direct the visitors bureau, lost the job when Camoni got it.
“No,” Rodway said, denying any role. “It sounds good in theory, but no.”
Rodway, who used to work at the visitor bureau and served on its board, said he’s plenty content in the county communications department to bother with something like that.
He’s also chairman of the 112th House District for the Democrats, which probably only fueled the rumor. Rodway’s no innocent. He’s a political guy, did a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff for former Commissioner Jim Wansacz and the way he got the 112th chairmanship angered quite a few Democrats.
Of course, even if you believe West’s and Rodway’s denials, the effect of Camoni getting the job is the same. Camoni is not running for state representative.
Camoni said he never seriously thought about running this time around, never talked to anyone about it and never asked for the tourism job to get him out of the state representative race.
“I’ve heard a lot of rumors why I got the job,” he said. “Unfortunately, none of them have to do with my 14 years’ experience and my education.”
He only considered running for state representative three years ago because he thought he could win a three-way race. He assumed Harrisburg Democrats would stay out of it because Haggerty and Farina were both representatives at the time. When Munley got in, that meant three candidates from Jessup — him, Farina and Munley — against Haggerty.
“When Munley got in, the math didn’t work so I got out,” he said.
He does think multiple candidates will run against Haggerty, though only Mullins has announced so far.
As for the visitors bureau job, he thinks he’s plenty qualified.
“There was an opportunity and I put in for it,” he said.
West, who runs Blake’s local office, said he has nothing against Camoni, but couldn’t understand replacing Estler.
Publicly, she said she never got a clear explanation for her removal and thought some other reason was behind the move.
When qualified people get pushed out for unexplained reasons, it looks bad to the world outside Lackawanna County, West said.
“These are some of the reasons why qualified people don’t come here,” West said. “Because people from outside don’t get a fair shake out here.”
BORYS KRAWCZENIUK, The Times-Tribune politics reporter, writes Random Notes.